Due to the Clean Air Act violations both Klamath Falls and Lakeview, Oregon have experienced this winter, Save Our Rural Oregon is requesting an emergency moratorium on proposed biomass and biofuels projects in both communities.
Letters have been forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, asking for their support of an emergency moratorium on biomass and biofuels projects in both Klamath Falls and Lakeview. The letter asks for a stay on the issuance of any new or modified air quality discharge permit related to biomass and biofuels projects and on awarding site certificates on those projects not yet adjudicated by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council.
“If they were already built, biomass projects proposed for both Klamath Falls and Lakeview would not only have made the air quality situation much worse but under anticipated sanctions placed upon us by EPA and DEQ starting in 2014, the biomass facilities would be exempt from shutting down and allowed to continue to burn while we citizens would be fined for heating our own homes,” said Paul Fouch, Executive Director of Save Our Rural Oregon. “If the upcoming sanctions were now in effect, these plants would never be built. We need to stop the placement of these proposed facilities before they are built, find solutions to our current air quality concerns, and reconsider these projects and their placement in the future.”
Biomass energy facilities are planned for Klamath Falls and Lakeview, communities that both have serious violations of the Clean Air Act – this winter the worst concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the entire United States. The 24 hour average PM 2.5 levels in Lakeview from 1/15/13-1/23/13 were 5 times the national standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, approaching 300 micrograms per cubic meter hourly. These are comparable to the well-known air quality conditions in Bejing, China.
Klamath Falls experienced similar conditions, as air quality was so poor that the EPA standard for PM2.5 for the entire year was exceeded by January 19, putting Klamath Falls out of compliance for 2014. This means that Klamath Falls will be facing sanctions in the form of emissions restrictions from industry and citizen wood burning activities, and restrictions on any new or modified air quality permits that increase overall emissions.
Klamath Bio Energy is in the final stage of siting an energy facility in Klamath Falls, of which SORO is currently involved in a Contested Hearing, soon to be heard and decided by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council. Iberdrola Renewables has two projects underway – a facility in Lakeview where they are currently seeking to triple the amount of emissions from its original air discharge permit and a second project adjacent to the proposed KBE facility in Klamath Falls. Given the socio-economic conditions of these communities, SORO believes the proposed placement of these facilities is unfair from a social justice and public health perspective, and will make these economically depressed communities that already have the most severe health problems in the state of Oregon de facto sacrifice zones.
“The consequences to the health and economic well-being of our citizenry are enormous given the current emissions levels, much less with the additional fine particulate matter from a biomass industry that does not have a good track record meeting their Clean Air Act obligations," said Fouch.
“We understand the position of our Congressional delegation and local elected leaders, that biomass may promote economic revival through the forest jobs that these projects represent. However, EPA and DEQ have a responsibility to protect the health and well being of the citizens of Klamath Falls and Lakeview."health
- by Josh Schlossberg, Energy Justice Network
It’s good news that IBM is helping Burlington, Vermont lower its impact on the climate. [“IBM Wants to Help Burlington Reduce Its Carbon Footprint,” Seven Days, March 27]. Unfortunately, the city’s refusal to fix glaring errors in its Climate Action Plan prevents an honest look at Burlington’s actual contributions to runaway global climate change.
The Burlington Climate Action Plan reports the entire city’s carbon dioxide emissions for 2007—from all sources—at 397,272.4 tons. Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates the CO2 emissions of McNeil’s Generating Station alone—the 50 megawatt biomass incinerator supplying roughly one-third of the city’s electricity—at 444,646 tons per year. A closer look reveals that the city only counted 2% of McNeil’s emissions from the 30 cords of wood it burns per hour from New York and Vermont forests along with a varying percentage of natural gas (including fracked gas).
In a May 2012 email to the city, William Keeton, Professor of Forest Ecology and Forestry Chair at UVM’s Rubenstein School, wrote that “we cannot assume biomass energy to be emissions neutral,” recommending that Burlington acknowledge “the high likelihood of net positive emissions during the near term so critical for avoiding irreversible high magnitude climate change.”
In a September 2012 blog post, 350 Vermont urged Burlington to account for the “actual carbon dioxide smokestack emissions from the McNeil Station for the wood and gas burned, as calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
It’s very possible for Burlington to emerge as a leader in the fight against climate change. But how can we reduce our future carbon footprint if we won’t even acknowledge our current one?Tags: climate
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
Sometimes what seems like defeat in the short term can actually turn out to be victory in the long run. One such case involves the opposition to the construction of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power incinerator in Eugene, Oregon. While the facility fired up its smokestacks for the first time in 2011, the effort to educate neighborhood residents about the health threats of the industrial polluter morphed into a powerful environmental justice movement in the low-income community surrounding the facility.
Alison Guzman (center) and Lisa Arkin (left) of Beyond Toxics in Eugene, Oregon
When Eugene-based Beyond Toxics (formerly Oregon Toxics Alliance) set out to question the “green” credentials of Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power plant in 2010—an 18.8 megawatt facility adjacent to the timber corporation’s existing lumber mill—they knew the deck was stacked against them. In a state where the timber industry still commands a great (some say disproportionate) amount of political influence, the organization wasn’t under any illusions that the corporation would voluntarily scrap its plans to profit off the sale of excess electricity to Eugene Water and Electric Board.
Surprisingly, despite Seneca Jones Timber Company’s dismal track record of clearcutting hundreds of thousands of acres of Oregon forests—including old growth—and dousing them with toxic herbicides—including in Eugene’s drinking watershed—few local or state environmental groups spoke out against the biomass incinerator.
In 2009, the Lane County Health Advisory Committee concluded that “biomass plants would add to our already overburdened air pollution problem in Eugene,” in a county that had been stuck with a “D” in air quality from the American Lung Association. This reality encouraged Beyond Toxics to zero in on the air pollution impacts of the proposed facility to the local community.
In 2010, Beyond Toxics hired Alison Guzman as a community organizer. West Eugene was already suffering from the pollution of a rail yard, a wood treatment plant, and several other sources of toxic contamination. Most industrial facilities emit a stew of poisons in the form of volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, according to Guzman, which the American Lung Association has linked to cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and birth defects. Unfortunately, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), a state agency with the mission to “protect public health, community well-being and the environment as a leader and advocate for the improvement and maintenance of air quality,” refused to acknowledge West Eugene as an environmental justice community.
“That’s when we got together to do canvassing to get an idea of health, income status and demographics and perspectives about quality of air” in the neighborhood, said Guzman.
Guzman and her colleagues learned that the hybrid industrial/residential neighborhood of West Eugene consisted of many low income residents and people of color—an 11 to 31 percent minority population, with Eugene’s average minority population at only 5 percent.
Beyond Toxics teamed up with Centro Latino Americano, a Eugene-based organization that advocates for members of the Latino community, to launch a canvass in West Eugene to build awareness and get the perspective of residents on the new polluter on the block. The canvass revealed that the majority of West Eugene residents had not been notified that the incinerator had been permitted and was under construction at the time.
Of the community members who were aware of the impending facility, some were concerned about exposure to particulate matter from wood burning—invisible particles that are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream and internal organs—causing asthma and other serious health impacts. Even those Eugeneans most familiar with biomass health threats had been kept in the dark in regards to biomass incinerator emissions of carcinogenic acrolein, styrene, formaldehyde and heavy metals, none of which are reported in air pollution permits.
Sixty percent of the 350 residents canvassed had already detected air pollution issues and reported a high rate of self-reported asthma—thirty percent. Beyond Toxics contacted neighborhood schools and calculated an asthma rate of over thirteen percent, “significantly higher than the rest of the county and nation,” said Guzman. According to Guzman, the closest homes sit only 1,500 feet away from Seneca’s smokestack, the nearest elementary school is 1.5 miles away.
Using GIS to map industries, schools, health clinics, and access to services in West Eugene, Beyond Toxics found “correlations to health impacts with income status with that of percentage of minorities and where industries are located.”
Guzman finds it ironic how on a bad air day in Eugene, individuals are banned from using their woodstoves to heat their homes, while corporations like Seneca Sawmill can burn whatever they want. “We’re all sharing the same airshed,” reminds Guzman. “Nobody is measuring the cumulative impacts.”
Infographic by Eugene Weekly
While pollution isn’t at “the top of the list” for most people understandably focused on paying bills and feeding their kids, Guzman points out how “exposure to toxics leads to chronic health effects which come up later in life.” And it’s the families that end up footing the bills for these pollution-related health problems.
In April 2012, Beyond Toxics took two busloads of people, including Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Quality, journalists, students and concerned citizens on a guided tour through West Eugene. The bus stopped at “significant industrial sources,” including the operating Seneca Sawmill biomass incinerator, with Arkin listing off the chemicals released from each of the facilities.
“Just because an industry has a permit that doesn’t mean they’re not polluting,” Arkin reminded the passengers. 3,313,000 pounds of air toxics—96% of all air toxics in Eugene—were released in the zip code, according to Arkin, citing “disproportionate impacts” on the West Eugene community.
Other stops featured residents talking about their troubling experiences with their industrial neighbors. Arcenia, a West Eugene resident of ten years, told how her child has suffered from asthma since birth and how she can’t open the windows some days. Another local, Josefina, said “sometimes we’d like to go for a walk with our families, but we can’t because the stink is just so bad.” When Marina moved to the neighborhood two years prior, on the very first day her thirteen year old daughter felt “nauseous and dizzy,” which she links to local air pollution.
While the Seneca Sawmill biomass facility fired up in 2011—only to promptly fail its first air pollution test—the biomass resistance in Eugene isn’t over.
Beyond Toxics is working on a GIS system to plot locations to conduct their own testing of Seneca’s incinerator emissions. The organization is also teaming up with Oregon State University on a pilot project to distribute a bracelet which can be worn by neighborhood residents to measure levels of exposure to toxic air pollution. The hope is that the data gleaned from these studies can be used to make the case against the construction of new biomass incinerators elsewhere.
Extending beyond the biomass issue, the community organizing efforts have created a “broader discourse under the framework of environmental justice,” said Guzman. “How can communities in the future be a part of the decision making process?” Beyond Toxics continues to work with residents to ensure that West Eugene’s industrial corridor doesn’t keep recruiting the same sort of polluting industries that have been setting shop over the decades.
The environmental justice spotlight has already helped spur the cleanup of a pond where toxic creosote logs had been dumped by Pacific Railway years before, as well as move a proposed housing development to a site further from sources of local pollution. Other ripples include increased discourse on the access to health care in the neighborhood and the creation of community gardens.
“We are the guinea pigs,” said Guzman, “in terms of being small enough to make a change and big enough to make an impact,” not just in Oregon but the rest of the nation, and possibly the world.Tags: healthenvironmental justice
Biomass Industry Fights Transparency
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
I was pleased to see the VT Digger opinion piece by Bill Kropelin, chief forester for Burlington Electric Department’s McNeil biomass incinerator, in response to Energy Justice Network’s McNeil Biomass Forest Map—since a public discussion on the health and environmental impacts of industrial-scale “biomass” energy in Vermont is long overdue.
Logging for McNeil biomass incinerator in Buels Gore, Vermont
As we all know, we are at a crossroads in regards to our energy choices. No longer can we depend on climate-busting and rapidly dwindling fossil fuels or risky nuclear energy to power our lifestyles. While the first step is radical energy efficiency, conservation, and “destruction of demand”—which can only be truly accomplished by adapting our ways of life to what the planet can sustain—it’s clearly time for appropriately sited and scaled, genuinely clean, renewable energy.
However, not all renewable energy is created equal. While every form of “alternative” energy—from solar to wind to hydro to geothermal—has impacts on the environment and human health, by far the most harmful of these options is industrial-scale biomass incineration. Whether it’s a good idea or not, it may be inevitable that more trees will be burned in the northeast to heat our homes through our long cold winters (which, thanks to climate change, are actually getting warmer and shorter). But Vermonters are starting to understand the folly of burning our precious forests for a highly inefficient, polluting, and obsolete method of electricity generation.
Vermont already has two large biomass power incinerators, McNeil Generating Station in Burlington and Ryegate Power Station in Caledonia County (not counting several smaller combined heat and power facilities and wood heating plants, and tens of thousands of outdoor wood boilers and wood stoves). Despite already consuming 650,000 tons of wood per year to fuel these two massive incinerators alone, which operate at 25% efficiency—effectively wasting three out of four trees—there are two other large biomass power incinerators proposed for Fair Haven (west of Rutland) and Springfield which would consume another 870,000 tons—totaling 1.52 million tons of wood per year, the rough equivalent of 13,000 acres of annual clearcuts.
The latest science has demonstrated that biomass power plants emit higher levels of asthma-causing particulate matter and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds per unit of energy produced than a typical coal plant—debunking biomass industry claims of “clean” energy. Science has also concluded that biomass incinerators emit more climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from the smokestack per unit of energy produced than a typical coal plant (with some studies citing a “permanent” increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide)—taking care of the “green” claims as well.
Which brings us to Vermont’s iconic forests, the focus of Energy Justice Network’s McNeil Biomass Forest Map. Aside from acting as a natural climate buffer, forests produce clean air and filter pure water, create fertile topsoil, prevent flooding and erosion, and provide recreation and tourism dollars. Numerous reports predict a massive uptick in forest degradation from the rush to mine trees for biomass power.
While Kropelin implies that the McNeil Biomass Forest Map somehow exaggerates the logging for McNeil, the acreage shown on the map is actually only the tip of the (melting) iceberg, since estimates of anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of McNeil’s wood is logged in New York State. Further, the map only includes 2010 logging sources in Vermont for McNeil, and doesn’t include logging for the Ryegate Power Station, out of state biomass incinerators, smaller biomass facilities or home heating.
The McNeil Biomass Forest Map will only depict the true forest footprint of an industrial scale biomass energy facility once at least ten years of the mapping is complete and we are able to access maps for New York State—which have thus far has been denied to us.
The biomass industry insists any opposition to an expansion of biomass energy is alarmist. Meanwhile, the only objective evidence we have is to measure the current forest impact from existing biomass incinerators and extrapolate from that. You’d think that the biomass industry, in order to prove how “sustainable” their practices are, would already be making this information publicly available. Yet, not only isn’t industry taking these steps towards transparency, they are speaking out against objective forest monitoring efforts like the McNeil Biomass Forest Map.
Does that make you feel any more confident about the biomass industry’s plans for the Green Mountain state?Tags: forests
An experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator, planned in the heart of the Hispanic community in the City of Allentown, Pennsylvania is being challenged by Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA). The group just submitted over 2,000 signatures to put a Clean Air Ordinance we wrote on the November ballot as an initiative. If this ballot initiative passes, Delta Thermo Energy will have to comply with strict requirements to do real-time monitoring of many toxic pollutants, and will have to disclose the data on a website real-time. They'll also have to control their emissions so that they are as clean as a gas-burning power plant of the same size. Considering that the company is appealing the most minimal requirements set by the state, it's unlikely that they'll proceed to build the incinerator if they have to comply with real standards for accountability. Read on for the group's press release or check out a flyer summarizing the issue and the Clean Air Ordinance.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
More Than 2,000 Signatures Have Been Submitted for Allentown Clean Air Ordinance Ballot Initiative
Allentown Pa. – On March 16th, Allentown residents delivered over 2,000 signatures successfully gathered by the filing deadline for a ballot initiative in an effort to place their drafted clean air ordinance on the Allentown ballot in November.
The Allentown Clean Air Ordinance, if passed by the voters in November, would require around the clock monitoring of emissions from new waste burning facilities, while capping the kinds of emissions that can cause cancer, asthma, and COPD. Under Pennsylvania’s Air Pollution Control Act, towns and municipalities are allowed to pass stricter air pollution laws than state regulations.
Allentown Residents for Clean Air and the petition drive were organized by Allentown residents with the help of Energy Justice Network in response to Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s trash and sewage sludge incinerator proposal. The facility has been contracted by the Mayor and City Council for 35 years, but is still embroiled in a legal dispute with the state over their permit, and may not yet have adequate funding to move forward. If built, Delta Thermo Energy, a New Jersey company, would burn 100 tons a day of city trash and 50 tons a day of sewage sludge. The incinerator would be Delta Thermo’s first and would be classified as an experimental facility due to a novel combination of three technologies that would allow the operator to skirt state regulations.
In addition, the 35-year contract would create a disincentive for the city to prioritize waste reduction efforts such as recycling and composting that would preclude the need for both landfill expansion and incineration. Allentown Residents’ goal is to pass strict monitoring requirements and an emissions cap on pollutants like carbon monoxide, acid gases, volatile organic compounds, toxic metals, and dioxins such that Delta Thermo and investors would no longer be attracted to Allentown.
“It’s just common sense to expect an experimental waste-burning operation to use modern equipment that would tell us what is really coming out of their smokestack, and for their emissions to be as clean as they claim,” said Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network. “However, this company is fighting the state, not wanting to comply with the most minimal requirements set in their permit, and wants even lower standards. I have no doubt that if we pass a reasonable clean air law, irresponsible companies like Delta Thermo will chose not to build their polluting experiment in the city.”
“We’ve been talking to many parents of kids with asthma, and others who suffer from the air pollution we already have. Burning 150 tons of waste each day in the heart of the city can only make things worse,” said Rich Fegley. “Alternatives like recycling and composting create 10 times more jobs than burning or burying waste. We can do better. In fact, San Francisco just reached 80% diversion from landfills and incinerators – a direction Allentown should try, rather than pick the dirtiest and most expensive way to handle waste.”
If the city clerk verifies that the signatures are valid, the ballot initiative would be present on the November ballot, so that Allentown voters can vote on whether they city should adopt the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance.
Allentown Residents for Clean Air is a diverse grassroots community organization organized to stop the Delta Thermo Energy incinerator. http://www.facebook.com/stoptheburnallentown
The Energy Justice Network is a Philadelphia-based national organization that supports communities threatened by polluting energy and waste technologies. Taking direction from a grassroots base and the Principles of Environmental Justice, EJN advocates a clean energy, zero-emission, zero-waste future for all. On their website, EJN proposes their own Energy Justice Platform.
This is from October 2012, but still worth celebrating. We keep dealing with communities where local officials want to pursue incineration (not realizing that it's the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to dispose of waste) while they haven't even tried to get serious about zero waste programs (redesign / reduce / reuse / recycle / compost). San Francisco is leading the way, having managed to hit 80% diversion of waste from landfills and incinerators. Other communities, like Austin, Texas, have developed ambitious zero waste plans as well and find them economically viable even while competing with super-cheap landfilling fees of only $20/ton. Read on for the news from San Francisco:
San Francisco reports record 80% diversion rate
October 5, 2012
By Jeremy Carroll, Waste & Recycling News
San Francisco extended its best-in-the-country diversion rate, reporting the city has achieved an 80% landfill diversion rate.
Mayor Edwin Lee made the announcement today.
The city previously led the nation in diversion with 78% for 2010-2011, up from 72% in 2009-2010. In addition to collecting plastics, metals and paper, the city collects food waste and yard waste to be turned into compost. Recology Inc. is the exclusive hauler for the city.
"Recycling and composting is not only good for our environment, it is also good for our economy," Lee said in a statement. "Recycling alone creates 10 times more jobs than simply sending refuse to the landfill, and I applaud Recology, the Department of Environment and San Franciscans for reaching this record milestone of 80% diversion."
Michael Sangiacomo, president and CEO of Recology, said it is proud to be a partner in this achievement and hopes to continue to help the city reach its zero-waste goal by 2020.
"Innovative policies, financial incentives, as well as outreach and education are all effective tools in our toolbox that have helped San Francisco reach 80% diversion," said San Francisco Department of Environment director Melanie Nutter in a statement. "We would not have achieved this milestone without the hard work and partnership of many people and businesses across the city."
The city said of the 444,000 tons of material sent to the landfill in the last fiscal year, about half of it could have been recycled or composted.
More details at:
Genetically Engineered Trees for Bioenergy Pose Major Threat to Southern Forests
In response to industry plans to develop eucalyptus plantations across the US South, environmental groups are raising serious concerns about the impacts of eucalyptus plantations on forests, rural communities, wildlife and the climate, especially if those trees are genetically engineered.
A recent boom in the southern biomass industry adds to the concern that industry plans to use GE eucalyptus, pine and poplar in biomass incinerators and cellulosic biofuel plants across the region. European energy companies RWE, Drax and E.On are currently importing or have plans to import wood pellets produced in the southern US, a trend which could increase the demand for plantations of fast-growing, genetically engineered tree species. Fortunately, GE trees are not yet approved for large-scale commercial plantations.
EcoGen, LLC recently announced plans to develop eucalyptus plantations in southern Florida to feed biomass facilities. Additionally, South Carolina-based ArborGen has requested USDA permission to sell billions of genetically engineered cold tolerant eucalyptus trees for plantations in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The USDA recently announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and solicit public comment for ArborGen’s request.
Eucalyptus trees are documented as an invasive pest in California and Florida. But because they cannot grow in sub-freezing temperatures, they have been engineered to be cold-tolerant, enabling them to survive temperatures below 20°f – vastly expanding their range.
Besides being highly invasive–the Charlotte Observer called them “the kudzu of the 2010s”–eucalyptus plantations deplete ground water and can even worsen droughts. The US Forest Service opposes GE eucalyptus plantations due to their impact on ground water and streams.
“GE eucalyptus trees are a disaster waiting to happen–it is critical the USDA reject them,” said Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director Anne Petermann. “In addition to being invasive, eucalyptus trees are explosively flammable. In a region that has been plagued by droughts in recent years, developing plantations of an invasive, water-greedy and fire-prone tree is foolhardy and dangerous.”
Petermann coordinates the international STOP GE Trees Campaign, which has collected thousands of signatures supporting a ban on GE trees due to their potentially catastrophic impacts on communities and forests.
“The forests of the Southeast are some of the most biodiverse in the world,” said Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director of Asheville, NC-based Dogwood Alliance. “They contain species found nowhere else. Species like the Louisiana Black Bear, the golden-cheeked warbler and the red-cockaded woodpecker are already endangered. Eucalyptus plantations could push these and other species over the edge,” he added.
The Georgia Department of Wildlife opposes GE eucalyptus trees due to these impacts.
The STOP GE Trees Campaign is planning events around the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference this May in Asheville, NC, where GE tree industry representatives and researchers will gather to discuss the use of GE trees and their deployment across the US South.
You can sign the petition calling on the USDA to ban GE trees at http://globaljusticeecology.org/petition.php
For more information on the dangers of GE trees, visit http://nogetrees.org
To get involved with the campaign, or to find out more about the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference and protests, contact Will Bennington at will [at] globaljusticeecology [dot] orgTags: forests
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- by Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council
News broke on January 30th that Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) was a keynote speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) task-force meeting in April 2011. As many readers know, ALEC has been aggressively pushing for the repeal of renewable energy standards at state legislatures across the country. The PUCO determines whether Ohio-based energy projects, including biomass projects, receive renewable energy certification entitling them to renewable energy credits and satisfaction of the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
Moreover, local news reports recently revealed that Chairman Snitchler’s Twitter account is rife with statements and re-tweets evidencing a deep hostility towards all things green and renewable energy.
Highlights include Snitchler retweeting a story titled "Elites of West have cranked up myth of Global Warming" from the Russian newspaper Pravda, calling it "interesting;" tweeting that, "clean-energy aid racks up losses" and "the Himalayas and nearby peaks have lost no ice in past 10 years, study shows"; and retweeting "electric cars pose environmental threat," ''after Sandy no one lined up for wind turbines," and that the "'green' religion is taking over from Christian religion."
The discovery of Snitchler’s tweets comes at an interesting time. Snitchler joined a 3-1 vote in late January rejecting American Electric Power's proposal to incorporate power from the Turning Point Solar Project into its renewable energy portfolio. The vote ignored the advice of commission staff and is likely to kill the Turning Point Project which, at 50 megawatts, would have been one of the largest solar arrays east of the Mississippi.
The Ohio Public Utilities Commission is currently considering updates to several of its rules, including rules relating to public disclosure. The public comment period for the PUCO’s proposed rule package ended on February 6th. The Buckeye Forest Council (BFC) submitted comments that highlight the lack of transparency found in the PUCO’s biomass-related disclosure requirements.
Currently, utilities operating in Ohio are required to disclose to their customers the types and amounts of fuel used to generate the electricity they sell in the state. Unfortunately, the PUCO’s current rules only require that utilities disclose biomass fuel sources under a monolithic, catch-all category called “biomass power.”
BFC’s comments point out that greater transparency is already required by the Generation Tracking Attribute System (GATS), with which Ohio utilities are currently required to register and report. For example, (GATS) tracks and discloses biomass resource mix under at least eight separate categories:
• Wood: Black Liquor
• Wood: Paper Pellets, Railroad Ties, Utility Poles, Wood Chips, and other wood solids
• Wood: Red Liquor, Sludge Wood, Spent Sulfite Liquor, and other wood related liquids not specified
• Other Biomass: Digester Gas, Methane, and other biomass gases
• Other Biomass: Ethanol, Fish Oil, Liquid Acetonitrile Waste, Medical Waste, Tall Oil, Waste Alcohol, and other biomass liquids not specified
• Other Biomass: Both Animal Manure and Waste, Solid Byproducts, and other solid biomass not specified
• Other Biomass: Sludge Waste
• Solid Waste: Municipal Solid Waste
In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks state-by state biomass mix generation under at least two separate categories: “Wood and Wood Derived Fuels” and “Other Biomass.” In short, information regarding biomass fuel mix is readily available and in fact required reporting for Ohio utilities via GATS. The PUCO needs to catch up and require more in-depth disclosure of biomass fuel mixture to Ohio’s energy consumers.Tags: forests
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
A new study out of Norway demonstrates what opponents of biomass energy have been saying for years: logging forests for bioenergy leads to a permanent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Bjart Holtsmark’s study, “The outcome is in the assumptions: analyzing the effects on atmospheric CO2 levels of increased use of bioenergy from forest biomass,” published in Global Change Biology in 2012, provides compelling evidence that the expansion of industrial-scale biomass energy will exacerbate climate change.
Scientific studies focusing on the greenhouse gas emissions of burning forests for electricity and/or heat have evolved significantly over the past few years. Earlier studies assuming the carbon neutrality of biomass energy gave way to a more recent acceptance of a short-term carbon debt (decades to centuries) with long-term carbon neutrality, leading up to today’s conclusion that “wood fuels are not carbon neutral, neither in the long term nor in the short term.”
Holtsmark’s paper evaluates five previous studies on carbon dioxide emissions from biomass energy— Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (2010), Cherubini (2011), McKechnie (2011) and Holtsmark (2012)—and adjusts some of their flawed methodologies, determining that “when the most realistic assumptions are used…an increased harvest level in forests leads to a permanent increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.”
One previous error in methodology involved basing calculations of greenhouse gas emissions on a single logging event in a forest stand, as opposed to the more realistic scenario of multiple logging events. “IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] documents, such as Chum et al. (2012), envisage a permanent increase in the use of bioenergy and, accordingly, a higher harvest rate,” explains Holtsmark, finding that “results change fundamentally” when multiple forest entries are taken into account.
Holtsmark also corrects the assumption that forests are always cut at peak growth, which is rarely the case due to economic pressures to log as quickly and often as possible. Further, Holtsmark highlights the need to measure carbon dioxide emissions against a baseline scenario of an unlogged forest “in which the trees are still growing, thus capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.”
“Technically speaking, this has never been a complicated issue,” said Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, whose organization has been calling attention to the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy in New England since 2007. “All that has ever been necessary to realize that increased cutting and burning of forests is not ‘carbon neutral’ is second grade math.”
“Ongoing logging to fuel ongoing biomass operations will add carbon to the atmosphere at the smoke stack,” Matera explained, “and increased removals will increase stress to forests and soils, and will likely reduce overall, long term growth rates thus also adding to atmospheric carbon levels – by absorbing less.”
“Instead, we need to do the opposite, let forests grow and expand as much as possible to clean up the mess we have made of our air and atmosphere.”Tags: climateforests
Photos Show Whole Trees Burned for Biomass Power
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
New evidence has emerged once again proving that biomass power incinerators burn whole trees—not just wood “residues”—for fuel. The photographs below (taken in December 2012) show thousands of trees stacked and awaiting the chipper at Hemphill Power and Light, a 14-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Sullivan County, New Hampshire. Click here for more photos.
Biomass Power Association’s Bob Cleaves said in a June 2010 article in Power-Gen Worldwide that his organization is “not aware of any facilities that use whole trees for energy and that it is not an economically sustainable approach to biomass as the cost of cutting down one tree outweighs the potential energy benefits.” Yet as consumer demand for lumber in a collapsed housing market remains stagnant, the timber industry has been liquidating forests for biomass energy.
Past documentation of the use of whole trees for biomass power incinerators has included photos taken at the McNeil Generating Station, a 50-megawatt biomass incinerator in Burlington, Vermont and at McNeil’s railcar loading site in Swanton, Vermont [below].
While currently the majority of wood fueling biomass power incinerators such as Hemphill and McNeil comes from tree tops and limbs, also known as wood “residues”—which contain the highest nutrient content in the tree and are an essential component of forest soils—an increase in biomass power incinerator proposals in the US and Europe (which intends to source much of its wood from the US) means competition for a limited fuel source and an increase in burning whole trees.
“The idea that we can provide enough ‘waste and residue’ from forestry operations to fuel these electric utilities is pure bunk,” said Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch, based in the US and UK. “They require thousands, even millions of tons per year depending on capacity. In Europe, huge coal plant conversion plans are underway and whole trees are being pelletized and shipped across the Atlantic to be burned there.”
“The sheer volume—current plans in UK alone will require over 63 million tonnes of pellets per year—can only be met by using whole trees,” said Smolker. “When we see and photograph whole trees going into these facilities we know the claims are false. When we see piles of woodchips and pellets there’s a very good chance those were once whole trees as well.”
The Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), the fifth largest producer of containerboard and corrugated products in US, concerned about a 50-megawatt Rothschild, Wisconsin biomass power proposal (currently under construction) warned: “It would seem that the simplest and perhaps only alternative for [the biomass developer] is to procure pulpwood to be chipped as fuel. This obviously will raise the cost not only of pulpwood but also of biomass across the region.”
PCA also cautioned that “the scale of operations may also result in unforeseen forest management impacts, e.g., clearcutting of northern hardwood stands for whole tree chips.”Tags: forests
Green Group Appeals California Biomass Proposal
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit environmental organization based in Arizona, is appealing a December 2012 Placer County Planning Commission decision to adopt a conditional use permit and certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility. Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) alleges that the EIR for the 2.2-megawatt biomass power incinerator “does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Cabin Creek biomass incinerator is proposed for a site two miles from 16,000-resident Truckee and within 1,500 feet of the nearest residence. The facility had previously been proposed for Kings Beach on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe but was relocated following fierce opposition from community residents.
The goal of the Center’s Climate Law Institute, which is undertaking the appeal through the efforts of its San Francisco-based Senior Attorney Kevin Bundy, is “to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution to protect biological diversity, the environment, and public health.”
Biomass incineration, “although often touted as a ‘clean’ alternative to fossil-fueled generation, has potentially significant environmental impacts of its own,” according to the Center’s comments on the project’s Final EIR. With 450,000 members and online activists, Center for Biological Diversity is one of the few large national environmental organizations to take legal action against the recent rash of biomass power incinerator proposals across the US.
“Absent proper consideration of these impacts—particularly air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and effects on forest habitat associated with the harvest and combustion of woody biomass, decision-makers and the public may be misled as to the benefits and environmental drawbacks of a biomass project,” according to Bundy’s comments.
CBD’s appeal cites concerns with the EIR’s accounting for carbon dioxide emissions, the description of its wood fuel mix, and lack of analysis of ecosystem impacts from logging, stating that the EIR “fails to adequately disclose and analyze the Project’s potential effects on forest management, forests, and habitat.”
The California Environmental Quality Act “requires an evaluation of a project’s physical impact on the environment,” states CBD, which the EIR does not adequately undertake, particularly in regards to greenhouse gas emissions. Instead the EIR simply claims the biomass facility won’t violate existing laws. Bundy’s comments maintain that a promise not to violate laws isn’t the same as studying the actual environmental impacts of a particular facility.
A July 2012 Wall Street Journal article revealed that out of 107 biomass power incinerators investigated, “85 have been cited by state or federal regulators for violating air-pollution or water-pollution standards at some time during the past five years.”
CBD refers to biomass incineration as “especially carbon-intensive, and has been shown to cause increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations over a period of decades to centuries depending on the feedstock.” Bundy refers to AB 32, whose goal is to “to reduce California greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020” and charges that the EIR therefore “must analyze the cumulative significance of the Project’s emissions in light of the emissions reductions needed to avoid contributing to the actual physical impacts of climate change.”
CBD issues the reminder that even AB 32 may be insufficient and to avoid the “devastating effects” of runaway climate change “industrialized countries will have to reduce emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.”
The controversial practice of forest “thinning” for so-called “fire fuels reduction”—which critics denounce as simply more commercial logging—results in “long-term atmospheric CO2 increases if combusted for bioenergy.” The collection and burning of high-nutrient “forest residuals” left over after logging for biomass energy also “may affect overall greenhouse gas emissions.”
Much of the Center’s criticism of the Cabin Creek EIR focuses on its claims that all the wood to be burned in the incinerator would otherwise be burned in the forest following logging operations. CBD criticizes the woody fuels description as “inconsistent, internally contradictory, and inadequate” to support that assumption.
While the EIR maintains that 95% of the wood would be burned in the open, “numerous other statements in the EIR [make] clear that not all forest-sourced materials are disposed of by burning.” The comments refer to a US Forest Service document calculating that “combustion efficiencies range from 75 to 95 percent” and in the Western US only “85 or 90 percent of fuels would be consumed in a burn pile.”
CBD’s comments also point out that the EIR language allows for the burning of “urban wood waste” in the biomass incinerator, which could otherwise be repurposed, recycled or disposed of without combustion.
“If a mere 5 percent of Project fuels would not otherwise have been burned in the open,” read Bundy’s comments, “or the combustion efficiency of burn piles falls short by just five percentage points, then the Project’s greenhouse gas emissions would fail to achieve the efficiency threshold adopted in the EIR.”
The Center broaches the issue of competition for a limited fuel source, noting that the EIR “acknowledges that some of this material is currently being used as fuel by other biomass facilities” and that other incinerators will have to “satisfy their demand for those fuels from other sources.” The end result of this increased competition would likely be more cutting and burning of forests. CBD calls for an analysis of the overlapping “woodsheds” of operating and proposed biomass facilities in the region to understand the “cumulative interactions” between facilities and the “overall effect on fuel demand.”
An appeal hearing will be scheduled in the coming months.Tags: climateforests
The Cellulosic Myth
- by Brian Tokar
[Excerpted from Agriculture and Food in Crisis, edited by Brian Tokar and Fred Magdoff]
As concerns about agrofuels’ implications for food supplies and the environment have become more widespread, proponents have reaffirmed their claims that current technologies are merely a “stepping stone” to more sustainable biofuel production from the cellulose in grasses and trees, rather than from food starches and oilseed crops. They predict that the world will soon obtain increasing yields of liquid fuel extracted from prairie grasses, logging wastes and forest thinnings, as well as agricultural byproducts such as straw and corn stover (i.e., leaves and stems). The extraction of ethanol from these high-cellulose sources, however, is a complex, energy-consuming process involving many stages of enzymatic digestion and purification of breakdown products, followed by the fermentation of sugars into ethanol. Alternative processes, such as the high temperature gasification and distillation of cellulosic feedstocks—technically similar to the liquefaction of coal—have proven equally difficult to commercialize.
Logging for biomass energy in Vermont
The most popular scenario for fuel extraction from cellulosic sources relies mainly on the use of wild or cultivated grasses, such as the varieties of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) that briefly became synonymous with “cheap, abundant fuel” after President George W. Bush mentioned switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union address. But harvesting grasses for fuel raises a host of new problems. Grass monocultures are highly dependent on nitrogen fertilizers and irrigation, while diverse grasslands, with healthy populations of leguminous plants, are highly productive and far better at sequestering carbon dioxide as soil organic matter. However, the use of mixed feedstocks in any industrial process significantly complicates the enterprise. Further, many grass species deemed suitable for agrofuel production are considered highly invasive. “[T]raits deemed ideal in a bioenergy crop,” reported one study, “are also commonly found among invasive species,” traits that include lack of known pests or diseases, high efficiency of water use and photosynthesis, rapid growth, and the ability to out-compete weeds in the spring.
In the United States, the most likely source of grass-based agrofuels is from grasslands now set aside under the Agriculture Department’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In June 2006, representatives of twenty-two leading conservation and hunting advocacy groups wrote to Congress challenging proposals to grow fuel crops on conservation lands, citing the program’s remarkable success in reducing soil erosion, reducing weed pressure, and preserving wetlands. “Most at risk are the wildlife benefits of CRP,” the letter stated, “which to a great extent are simply not compatible with frequent harvesting.” Unlike the periodic fire disturbances that are necessary to sustain prairie ecosystems, harvesting grasslands returns few nutrients to the soil, and harvesting equipment would likely prove far more disruptive to wildlife than the spread of wildfire.
The use of crop residues for fuel also raises serious questions, as these materials are essential for soil conservation and play an essential role in agronomic cycles. The decomposition of crop residues tilled back into the soil after harvest is necessary for the maintenance of soil health, while growers who practice “no till” cultivation rely on the same residues as a mulch and for protection against soil erosion. Collecting and separating corn stover from the grain would require redesigned, probably heavier, combines, adding to farmers’ costs and to soil compaction. A 2007 study by researchers at two Department of Energy laboratories concluded that a maximum of 30 percent of crop residues could be removed without increasing soil erosion and lessening soil organic matter.
Finally, the proposed thinning of forests and removal of dead trees and branches for fuel production would reduce carbon sequestration and also threaten wildlife habitats. The experience of biomass power plants in the U.S. suggests that harvesting wood for fuel inevitably increases logging, whether in forests or on plantations dedicated to fuel production. Thinning operations disturb the forest floor, accelerating the loss of soil carbon as CO 2 . The push for cellulosic agrofuels has served to justify the expansion of monoculture tree plantations, as well as the development of genetically engineered trees, most notably the varieties of fast-growing eucalyptus that have been modified to survive in cooler climates such as those found in the Southeastern U.S. The South Carolina-based Arborgen company has repeatedly cited the search for appropriate biofuel feedstocks as a rationale for its aggressive development of genetically engineered tree varieties, and agrofuel development has also become a leading rationale for commercializing the exotic new genetic interventions known as “synthetic biology.”
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
The first and only electronic map tracking logging sites sourcing wood to a biomass energy facility has been released by Energy Justice Network, a Washington, DC-based organization with field offices in Vermont, Pennsylvania and Oregon.
The initial phase of the McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project—funded by a grant from the Fund for Wild Nature—maps logging sites in Vermont that provided wood to the McNeil Generating Station in 2010, a 50-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Burlington. The map overlays nearly 150 forest sites logged in 2010—along with several photo galleries—on a satellite map of Vermont using Google Maps.
The McNeil project is integrated into Energy Justice Network’s Dirty Energy Mapping Project which pinpoints the locations of existing and proposed biomass and waste incinerators, nuclear reactors, natural gas and coal-fired power plants in the US and documents grassroots community resistance to those facilities.
Once completed, the McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project will map logging for both the McNeil station and the 25-megawatt Ryegate Biomass Incinerator (in Ryegate, Vermont) over a ten year period from 2002-2012 to depict the actual forest footprint of industrial scale biomass energy. The finished project will include dozens of photo galleries showing on-the-ground impacts of biomass energy logging projects.
The maps of the logging operations—scanned from hard copies and replicated by hand using Google Maps—were accessed through the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife which has been tasked by the Vermont State Legislature to pre-approve management plans to log forests providing wood to the McNeil and Ryegate biomass power incinerators. Final biomass logging projects are approved by foresters employed by the McNeil facility and its co-owner Burlington Electric Department, with Fish and Wildlife officials rarely making site visits in advance of the logging and never after logging has taken place.
An estimated one-half to two-thirds of the wood fueling the McNeil incinerator is sourced from New York State, where logging sites are neither tracked nor made available to the public, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Vermont is the only state in the US requiring that a state agency keep track of forests logged for some biomass energy facilities.
The McNeil biomass incinerator burns an estimated 400,000 green tons of wood per year—seventy-six tons, or thirty cords, of whole-tree chips per hour—along with a small percentage of natural gas, according to Burlington Electric Department. The wood fueling the McNeil incinerator consists of 70% trees and woody materials cut directly from the forest, 25% from “residues” (wood chips and bark from local sawmills), and 5% from recycled wood. Along with tree tops and limbs (which contain the highest level of nutrient content of any part of the tree), the McNeil facility burns whole trees, as has been documented in photographs [see below].
McNeil sources its wood from “integrated harvest” logging operations, which typically involves “whole-tree” logging and includes clearcuts up to twenty-five acres, housing developments, and forest “thinning.” Whole-tree logging is more intensive than traditional logging since it removes the nutrient rich tree tops and branches from the forest which could otherwise provide habitat, prevent erosion, and enrich forest soils. Along with wood for the incinerator, these “integrated harvests” also provide lumber, paper pulp, and firewood. Some trees that could be used for furniture, paper pulp, particle board, firewood, mulch, compost (and occasionally lumber) are instead burned for electricity at less than 25% efficiency—effectively wasting three out of four trees.
“For the first time we’re showing the direct impact on forests from biomass incineration,” said Aaron Kreider, web developer for Energy Justice Network and lead designer of the mapping project. “Can you imagine what the impact of McNeil will be during its entire lifetime? Can you imagine what could happen to our forests if we convert dozens of large coal plants to biomass?”
At twenty-six years old, Burlington’s McNeil Generating Station is one of the nation’s longest operating biomass power incinerators. The incinerator is sited adjacent to the low-income, ethnically-diverse Old North End neighborhood, 200 yards from the nearest residence. McNeil is Vermont’s largest polluter, according to Planet Hazard.com.
In a recent controversy, the City of Burlington, Vermont’s Draft Climate Action Plan reported only a fraction of the carbon dioxide (CO2) smokestack emissions from McNeil—hindering the city’s efforts to accurately measure and reduce its carbon footprint, according to critics. The 50-megawatt facility is jointly owned by Burlington Electric Company, Green Mountain Power, and Vermont Public Power Supply Authority.
Over 200 electricity-generating, wood-burning biomass power incinerators currently operate in the US, with another 200 proposed, according to Forisk Consulting. Though more and more of these facilities are being built across the nation—due, in large part, to generous federal and state “renewable” energy subsidies and incentives—the ecological footprint of existing industrial-scale biomass energy facilities has yet to be adequately assessed.
“Even as forest protection is increasingly recognized as one of the best defenses against climate change—while also critical to protecting water, soils and biodiversity—governments are putting into place policies and subsidies to cut and burn forests the world over for ‘biomass’ electricity and heat,” said Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in the US and UK. “They falsely refer to this as ‘clean, green and renewable,’ but it is a total disaster in the making.”
The McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project would make the logging operations for the McNeil and Ryegate biomass incinerators transparent and accessible to industry, government, media, scientists and members of the public, allowing for the documentation of actual, on-the-ground impacts associated with forest biomass energy. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide a model for a comprehensive, national assessment of the total forest footprint of industrial-scale biomass energy facilities to gauge current and future ecological impacts.Tags: forests
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
A new report by Rachel Smolker and Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch condemns carbon capture and storage (CCS) as setting the stage for increased burning of climate-busting biomass and fossil fuels for energy, in effect keeping us from looking at the way the way we produce—and consume—energy.
BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage): Climate saviour or dangerous hype? reveals the technical and financial unlikelihood of reducing carbon dioxide emissions through carbon capture and storage, how the technology will result in the burning of even more biomass and fossil fuels, and points out the “serious risks and hazards” inherent in the process.
BECCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from biomass power facilities by “using chemical and physical absorption, filtering membranes, or adsorption,” transporting the gas via truck, ships, or pipelines, “and injecting it into geological formations” beneath the Earth’s surface.
Smolker and Ernsting demonstrate that, instead of BECCS preventing runaway climate change, “promises of future CCS capability have been used as rationale for construction of new ‘CCS-ready’ coal and biomass burning facilities.” Oil, coal, and biomass developers are hoping to employ CCS to stay within CO2 allowances mandated by the European Union while continuing to burn their polluting product.
The report concludes that BECCS will lead to “a new form of ‘underground’ land grab,” mainly in the global South. The report authors caution that the use of BECCS “would lead to massively increased demand for biomass and attendant negative impacts on peoples and lands.”
CCS is also a method for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) which involves “forcing more oil out of existing depleted wells,” oil which might otherwise remain in the ground. A major impetus for CCS is the “quest to exploit more oil from partially depleted reservoirs which requires a large continuous stream of cheap CO2.” The Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions (formerly Pew Center for Climate Change) advocates for tax credits and other pro-EOR policy, “claiming as much as 60 billion barrels of oil (compared to 25 billion barrels exploited form all US oil reserves to date) could be accessed from US oil deposits” through the technology. Roughly 80% of BECCS in the US “involve capturing CO2 from ethanol refineries and using it to extract more oil,” according to the report.
Even if BECCS from power stations becomes feasible—which the report casts doubt upon due to “huge” and “largely prohibitive” costs—“the evidence suggests that the long term reliability of underground storage cannot be guaranteed” and may result in leakage. Earthquakes and other natural disasters are a further threat to long term carbon storage and “any sudden large release could be extremely dangerous, since exposure to elevated concentrations of CO2 can be lethal.”
Any sort of failure in carbon storage could “undermine efforts to reduce emissions and protect climate,” with report authors explaining that “even a 1% leakage rate would result in all of the CO2 being released again within a century.”
Much of the report focuses on the expansion of biomass incineration for energy predicted to accompany the further development of CCS, including “a more than six-fold increase in industrial bioenergy production from 2007,” according to the International Energy Authority’s Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme. Smolker and Ernsting state that if carbon capture and storage were implemented on a large scale in an attempt to geo-engineer the climate it would “require massive amounts of biomass—in the order of hundreds of millions of hectares of new dedicated plantations.”
BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage): Climate saviour or dangerous hype? makes short work of biomass industry and government claims that bioenergy is carbon neutral, citing recent studies which demonstrate that “large-scale bioenergy including biomass combustion and other processes generally result in even more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they are intended to replace.” In regards to industry assertions that bioenergy CCS would be “carbon negative,” the report concludes that “if bioenergy is not carbon neutral in the first place, then adding capture and storage certainly cannot render it carbon negative.”
Financially, CCS requires “further equipment, infrastructure (including pipelines), monitoring, energy and financial investment,” verification and insurance. Estimates reach “up to $80 or more per metric ton” of CO2 from power stations, and “those costs would most likely be passed on to ratepayers.” Other costs are likely to be borne by taxpayers as “worldwide, governments have pledged on the order of $25 billion for the support of CCS projects.”
Costs aside, BECCS is very inefficient in regards to Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI), as “11-40% more fuel would need to be burnt for the same energy output,” since “the process itself requires energy.”
“There is little real-world experience” with carbon capture and storage, warns the report. “There is however considerable, (disproportionate) hype and expectation.”
The future of BECCS from power stations is uncertain since the technology “involves such high costs—both in terms of finance and additional energy required—that the prospect of large-scale application appears remote.” Just the same, grassroots community opposition to carbon capture and storage projects has already begun in Ohio, Germany, and the Netherlands.
- by Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch
In December 2012, the U.S. Senate voted to strike language from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have limited military use of biofuels by requiring that they only purchase biofuels at costs comparable to petroleum fuels. Further, they amended the bill to allow defense spending on refinery construction, previously prohibited. That move included the $510 million in funding via an agreement between the Department of Defense, the USDA and the Department of Energy. Given the call to reduce military budgets, biofuels are at issue after hackles were raised following the revelation that the Air Force had paid out $59/gallon for biofuelled test flights, and the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" demonstration, using $26/gallon fuel, at a total cost over $12 million.
So the push for biofuelled warfare has taken a big step forward, much to the delight of the domestic biofuels industry, which is very hopeful that military demand and investment will serve as their lifeline, providing impetus, large infusions of finance and boundless guaranteed demand for fuels.
In an article in Biofuels Digest, the executive director of Algae Biomass Organization, Mary Rosenthal, states:
"Federal support for nascent energy technologies is not without precedent. In fact, the natural gas revolution that has been unleashed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology was originally funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The military has led other energy revolutions as well; they pioneered the transitions from ships driven by the wind to those steaming with coal, then on to cruising with petroleum and nuclear reactors. By providing advanced biofuels with stable support for research and deployment the Department of Defense will be on the forefront once again. The military advantage is obvious, and the potential economic advantages cannot be ignored."
Indeed, from Mary Rosenthal's perspective, military interest in, especially, algae fuels, is her career lifeline. The title of her article "Support Our Troops" should more appropriately have been "Support My Career". Algae fuels have been pursued to the tune of many millions of dollars in subsidies and supports, ongoing since the early 1970s now, all to little avail. There still remains no commercial production and very significant barriers (high nutrient requirements, low productivity, intense water requirements etc). Making biofuels from algae is technically straightforward, but doing it in a manner that does not require more energy than is delivered by the fuels has so far proven elusive. Yet the promise of algae fuels continues to facilitate the ongoing development of other biofuels in spite of clear and evident harms.
The biofuels industry and its supporters are enthusiastically rallying around military biofuels, couched in what might be considered dangerously zealous and patriotic terms, as if not supporting military biofuels is on par with committing treason. Max Baucus, for example: "I call these freedom fuels, because they help get us off of foreign oil and help bring good paying jobs to Montana." The myth that we will gain "energy security" via the production of biofuels is patently absurd. The U.S. can only produce so much biofuel, even if we were to dedicate virtually all of our cropland and forests to the task. Just a day or two ahead of the senate vote, nobel prize winning photosynthesis scientist, Harmut Michel stated that "all biofuels are nonsense" -- based on the extreme inefficiencies inherent to converting solar energy first into chemical energy in plants via photosynthesis, and then into biofuel via various refinery processes.
This is why biofuels have such a massive "land footprint"-- very little energy from a lot of land area. Even if we were to devote every square inch of arable land and water to the task we would barely scratch the surface of current energy consumption. And meanwhile, we are already importing biofuels from outside our boundaries (as we also export coal and gas!) The U.S. imports Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, and exports corn ethanol to Brazil -- apparently the result of some determination that sugar ethanol meets higher emissions standards and can therefore be used towards meeting different requirements of the renewable fuel standard. A global economy is in place, and biofuels, like all other commodities, are traded as deemed profitable. So much for energy "independence".
The jobs argument is becoming a tired old saw -- at every turn these days we are threatened and bullied into complicity by the threat of unemployment. In this case, implicit to Baucus' statement is the idea that opposing military biofuels will lead to poverty and joblessness and is therefore "unkind." But the underlying cause of our economic hardships, and the real solutions to it, have nothing to do with creating absolutely any and all jobs without any consideration of the implications of the work they achieve or it's impact on the rights of other peoples to eat or live decently!
The U.S. military is the largest consumer of petroleum on earth burning through something on order of 300 thousand barrels of oil daily. That is 12,600,000 gallons of fuel per day or a whopping 4,599,000,000 gallons of fuel per year. Meanwhile, data on biodiesel production in the U.S. for 2012 from EIA indicate that in favorable months, we produce about 100 million gallons, so optimistically, 1,200 million (1.2 billion) gallons per year. There is no other advanced biofuel produced in any significant quantity, so biodiesel represents the vast majority of "advanced fuels" produced. Thus, if we chose to put every drop of biodiesel we produce towards military use, we could never offset more than a small part of the military demand.
Ironically, even as Congress is voting to support military biofuels, a new report from the New England Complex Systems Institute, discussed in National Defense magazine this week, argues that "U.S. Energy Policy [biofuels] Fuels Global Insecurity". The report refers specifically to the impact of corn ethanol on food prices, and the resulting social conflict where hungry people resent and rebel. The US currently dumps on order of 40 percent of its corn crop into ethanol production, contributing a miniscule portion of our overall transport energy (and oxygenating fuel). So we are faced with the deeply twisted situation where our demand for biofuels is generating social conflicts, and we therefore need more biofuels in order to fuel the military that is supposedly "protecting" us.
We are told over and over that "advanced biofuels", especially cellulosic fuels made from inedible plant parts and wood, will save us from the problem of food competition and thus the threat of escalating social conflicts resulting. But, first of all, most biofuels classed as "advanced fuels" in the U.S. now produced (biodiesel from soy and corn oil) are not made from cellulose. They are soy and other oil biodiesel, sugarcane and other non-corn starch based ethanol. These certainly do have impacts on land use, food and fiber markets that ripple throughout the economy. More fundamentally, the distinction between food and non-food biomass is nonsensical, because of course underlying all plant biomass growth, is the soil, water and nutrients that are essential to plant growth, and are increasingly in short supply. There is a tacit assumption that land use is somehow static, but farmers, foresters and landowners base decisions on what to plant and/or harvest largely on economics. If converting a corn field to grow genetically engineered poplars for cellulosic fuels is profitable, farmers will very often choose to do so, and hence direct competition with food production does not magically dissappear. Of course all of this is somewhat moot because so far basically nobody has succeeded in producing cellulosic "non-food" fuels on commercial scale, in spite of the mandates and an ongoing flow of subsidies that have supported its development. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people around the globe are faced with hunger as we continue to use the future prospect of non-competing fuels as an excuse to continue with misguided policy and practice.
Sadly, even supposedly "environmental" groups, like NRDC support the development of biofuels for military use. Their "affiliate", Environmental Entrepreneurs published a report entitled "Economic Benefits of Military Biofuels," claiming lots of jobs would be generated, for farmers and others working in the supply chain. Jobs are a good thing, but not if they kill people and/or the planet, so before we jump on that bandwagon let's at least think through the implications of employment clearly. Groups like NRDC are supposedly concerned about the environment. Alongside many in industry, they talk a lot about "sustainability", assuring the public that biofuels can and should and will be produced as such. The word is inserted into every other sentence almost as if sheer repetition of the term will cause sustainability to happen. But there is no agreed definition of the term. In fact, for those concerned with economics and the company's bottom line, sustainability refers specifically to the balanced inflow and outflow of profits, and has nothing at all to do with environment or social justice. NRDC seems oddly reluctant to outright reject anything (biofuels, fracking) and so instead they refer to "doing it right" (i.e. sustainably). The underlying assumption is that it is in fact possible to produce such massive quantities of biofuels "sustainably". But the problem is that it is the scale of demand itself that is unsustainable. No "greenhouse gas accounting" or list of lofty hopeful "sustainability principles", and no amount of repetition of the word can avert the consequences of a huge new demand for land, soil, water and nutrients. Sustainability standards are especially meek in the face of massive federal subsidies and a near religious fervor over the concept of "energy security", which tends to entirely over-ride environmental concerns.
In the end, there is only so much "biomass" available on the surface of the earth. We have an expanding human population (and dwindling nonhuman population) to feed and house, and there is the very dangerous expectation that we need to fuel an ever-growing, limitless economy. This is all in the context of escalating catastrophic impacts of climate change including severe droughts, wildfires, forest dieback and disease, water shortages and desertification of soils, all of which impact "biomass." There is no question that halting deforestation, better stewardship of soils, restoration of natural systems all would provide a critical line of defense against the coming storms, but instead it appears we are on track to convert what is left into "biomass" in order to fuel the machinery of warfare.
In the end, one has to question not the "sustainability" of biofuels, but of the military itself. The environmental (including climatic) and human rights impacts of U.S. military activities is the "elephant in the room" -- undisclosed and unreported -- likely not even mentioned at the current UNFCCC meeting in Doha. As delegates from developing countries fight for meaningful investment to help them survive the consequences of climate catastrophe, the U.S. refuses to rise to meet its obligations, instead dumping trillions into military budgets (including more investment in military biofuels). In the not too distant future will we witness biodiesel fueled wars fought against hungry enraged peoples over access to soybean fields instead of oil fields?
- by Karen Orr, Energy Justice Network
One of the tragedies of life in Gainesville, Florida is that there is so little reality based journalism. In today's SUN, editorial page editor Ron Cunningham continues the newspaper's disinformation campaign on the city's Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) boondoggle. Cunningham rewrites history when he states: "I just wish they had been here hotly debating that issue three, four or even five years ago, when it might have made a difference."
Cunningham knows citizens strongly and publicly opposed the tree burning incinerator plan three, four and even eight years ago. Maybe more. The Gainesville city commissioners were well aware of the bad environmental consequences a biomass incinerator would have on North Florida. Alachua County citizens told them so over and over.
2005 example: "GRU's Developer Welfare Plan" - the first published article on the city commission's biomass discussion that I'm aware of. But there weren't nearly as many citizens back in the day opposing the biomass debacle as there are now. That's because the public at large was the victim of The Gainesville SUN's cover-up of this story that would have informed them of the impending biomass disaster.
The SUN kept the public in the dark as former Gainesville mayor Pegeen Hanrahan's plan played out at City Hall. Only after the SUN considered the city's GREC boondoggle to be "a done deal," and a citizen lawsuit unveiled the biomass rate hike buried in the secret contract, did the newspaper begin reporting on the tree burning electricity generator in any meaningful way. Not only did the SUN news editors hide the story as its' details unfolded at City Hall, SUN editorial page editor Cunningham refused to publish some of the columns that would have alerted SUN readers to what could be in store should the biomass boondoggle go forward.
One important piece Cunningham refused to let see the light of day on the SUN's editorial page was former Gainesville mayor, Tom Bussing's "The Shell Game: Gainesville is Giving Away Its Energy Future." On December 21, 2009 James Maloy of Gretna, Florida wrote: "Since the Gainesville Sun editorial page Editor, Ron Cunningham has refused to publish this column by former Gainesville Mayor Tom Bussing, we offer this information to the visitors of this website with thanks to Mr. Bussing for sharing his opinion with the citizens of Florida who depend on the media and government officials to defend their best interests."
- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor
A study on the health risks from a biomass power incinerator proposed for Placer County, California contains “several fallacies,” according to Norma Kreilein, MD, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A Health Impact Assessment of the Proposed Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility in Placer County, California claims that the construction of the 2.2 megawatt Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility two miles from 16,000 resident Truckee will “likely benefit community health in the Lake Tahoe region,” despite emitting higher levels of particulate matter and other air pollutants per unit of energy than a coal-fired plant, the dirtiest fossil fuel. The nearest residence stands 1,500 feet from the facility.
"The study has too many holes to be a foundation for a decision,” says Dr. Kreilein, a pediatrician who works with children and infants suffering from lung disease, based in Jasper, Indiana. “The direct health effects of the particulates on the local population are not assessed whatsoever.” Dr. Kreilein, along with other medical doctors and scientists traveled to Washington, DC in September 2012 for a Congressional hearing to present on the negative health impacts of biomass incineration, including asthma and cancer.
The Health Impact Assessment acknowledges that “there will be project emissions which could exacerbate health issues in vulnerable population groups” and that residents who live in the area over the next seventy years could “expect an additional risk of 2.0 excess cancers per million people.” The study notes that biomass energy facilities emit “criteria air pollutants and air toxics,” such as asthma-causing particulate matter and nitrogen oxides and “55 toxic air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, and nickel.”
According to the Cabin Creek Biomass Facility Project Draft Environmental Impact Report, the facility would emit up to 77.5 lbs per day of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), 77.7 lbs per day of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 29.5 lbs per day of particulate matter (PM)10 and 17.5 lbs per day of PM2.5 from its smokestack, from wood chipping, and from transportation. Smokestack emissions alone would account for 15.4 lbs per day of VOCs, 72 lbs per day of NOx, 14.4 lbs per day of PM10, and 14.4 lbs per day of PM2.5.
“Elderly, children, and people who suffer from asthma or other respiratory illnesses and heart disease are particularly susceptible to changes in air quality,” according to the Health Impact Assessment. The study reveals that “there are no long term studies that have examined the health impacts” of biomass facilities.
“I have never heard where fine particulates are good for anything but cancer,” said Kings Beach, California resident Danielle Hankinson. Kings Beach had previously been proposed as a possible site for the biomass facility until local residents voiced opposition.
In 2004, Placer County Air Pollution Control “amended Rule 225 to reduce particulate matter production from wood burning appliances” due to air pollution concerns. Truckee “residents and officials” have spoken of the “need to improve air quality, particularly during the winter months when wood burning stoves are in higher use.”
The study recommends creating a “communications plan” to “ease community anxieties regarding the facility,” especially during the winter when an inversion layer makes air pollution more noticeable. Other impacts include the inhalation of wood dust escaping from the facility or trucks bringing in wood, as well as “noise disturbance” and odor.
“Trucking biomass for incineration does not make sense, even outside of the health issue,” said Carina Cutler of King’s Beach.
The Health Impact Assessment claims that cutting 14,000-17,000 dry tons of wood per year from forests within thirty miles of the facility, including from the Tahoe and El Dorado National Forests, will “improve” regional air quality. The study argues that emissions from wood burning will be decreased because the wood fueling the facility would otherwise be burned in open slash piles in the forest following logging operations, including clearcuts. The tops and branches of trees contain their highest nutrient content and removing them from the forest to burn as biomass energy prevents these nutrients from returning to the soil.
The Health Impact Assessment also advocates for an increase in wildfire “fuels reduction” logging, which includes logging whole trees, sometimes from old growth forests. Forest advocates claim that “fuels reduction” is simply another name for commercial logging and ineffective at protecting homes or even reducing wildfire—which is a natural and essential component of western forest ecosystems.
“The latest research is suggesting that weather/climatic conditions, rather than fuels, drive large blazes,” wrote ecologist George Wuerthner in Fire Myths/Fire Realities. “Thinning programs are unlikely to work effectively in drought years. And since nearly all big blazes occur in drought years, these are the only fires that are worth worrying about.”
Logging forests can expose them to sunlight, drying them and making them more flammable. Logging can also open forests to wind, which can spread flames faster during wildfire.
Jack Cohen, research scientist at the Fire Sciences Laboratory at the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station states that “home ignitability, rather than wildland fuels, is the principal cause of home losses during wildland/urban interface fires. Key items are flammable roofing materials and the presence of burnable vegetation immediately adjacent to homes. Intense flame fronts (or crown fires) will not ignite wooden walls at distances greater than 40 meters or 130 feet.”
A Health Impact Assessment of the Proposed Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility in Placer County, California was conducted by the Sequoia Foundation which, according to its mission statement, “seeks to support the efforts of local, state, national—and international—public health agencies in promoting and implementing effective public health policy.”
The Sequoia Foundation received grant support for the report from the Health Impact Project which is a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was founded with money from the chemical company Johnson and Johnson. The Pew Charitable Trusts is a private foundation created by the children of Joseph and Mary Pew, the founder of Sun Oil (Sunoco).
In his 2004 article, How the Pew Charitable Trust is Smothering the Grassroots Environmental Movement, California environmental advocate Felice Pace wrote that Pew’s extensive funding of groups advocating for small parcels of wilderness—as opposed to wholesale public lands protection—did more harm than good. “In the 1970s and 1980s a vibrant, truly grassroots public land protection movement emerged–first in the West and then nation-wide. During the 1990s Pew, with support from other foundations, moved decisively to control this movement.” The end result of the Pew funding strategy, according to Pace, “may include development of larger, more ecologically important natural areas.”
Friends: We've always done excellent work on a shoe-string budget. Our small crew has been providing critical support to community environmental leaders all over the U.S., enabling countless victories against coal, gas, incineration and other existing and proposed polluters.
We need to raise $50,000 to bring us through 2013. We aimed to raise $10,000 of that this month, and have already raised $9,491! I think we can make it to $15,000. Please check out our work, reach out to us for help if you need it, and offer whatever support you can: http://www.energyjustice.net/donate/
Below is an overview of our work that we shared with our email contacts. Click the "read more" link below to check it out.
Thanks, and Happy New Year!
The Energy Justice Team
Mike, Traci, Aaron, Alex, Josh & Samantha
Dear Energy Justice friend,
Every day, we're hearing from communities that need our support, whether it's to stop proposals for the coal plant near their homes, the trash incinerator near their child's school, the landfill by their farmland, or the gas pipeline through their town.
No matter where you live, the impacts of dirty energy and waste facilities aren't far away. Few groups exist to help you focus locally and win victories to improve your community's health by stopping polluters. Doing so moves us toward the clean energy and zero waste society we'd all like to live in -- and the green jobs that come with it.
In the last handful of years, activists in our network have stopped over 100 proposed coal power plants and several dozen planned incinerators that would have burned everything from trash to tires to trees. We've contributed to victories over fracking, crematoria, landfills, mountain-top removal coal mining, and more.
Grassroots activism works! While large-scale legislative efforts are slow to make change, those of us changing the facts on the ground are having a major effect. We're not just pushing polluters from one community to another, but are knocking out 60-90% of entire industrial waves of proposals for dirty energy and waste facilities. We do this by creating strong "Not in ANYone's Backyard" networks where communities help each other. As we reshape entire industries, showing that nuclear, coal, oil, gas and biomass/incineration are not options we'll allow, we create the economic space for clean solutions to take root.
Here is an outline of what we offer to help you win:
-Find out what polluters are targeting your area: Hundreds of new dirty energy and waste industry are targeting communities around the country. We often find out about corporate plans that you may not even know are targeting your area yet. Be in touch with us to see what we know needs attention in your backyard. If we have your current zip code, we can reach out to you when we hear about threats to your area. Please check out and sign up for our mapping project at http://www.energyjustice.net/map/ This interactive site allows you to find existing and proposed polluters and to share info on them and any local efforts to stop them.
-Organizing advice and support: We regularly support grassroots activists with info on the problems with technologies they're fighting, provide connections to other activists who have worked on the same issue, and offer effective strategies to win, including local legal tools such as local ordinances that can halt polluters.
-Network-building: We connect people around various industries they're fighting, mainly through focused email discussion lists.
We have active email discussion lists on:
We're also building membership in lists (that aren't currently very active) on:
~poultry waste incineration
~toxic waste sites
We also have a monthly newsletter on biomass issues, called the Biomass Monitor, which you can join through:
http://www.energyjustice.net/biomass/monitor/ (past issues are archived here)
If you're working on any of these issues and would like to join our networks on them, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, let us know which lists you're interested in joining and explain your interest and involvement in the issues(s), if any.
HELP US HELP YOU: We're honestly overwhelmed right now, trying to help communities in the coming year tackle gas-fired power plants, incinerators and more. We're one of the most frugal and efficient organizations you can support, and your help will go far. If you can help us this year, please do.
LOW INCOME READERS: If you are on a tight budget, don't send cash! Just forward this to others who might need our help or might be able to help. :) We also need help building our Facebook community: you can invite your Facebook friends, that's a big help, too. We are proud to have you with us.
Okay, I'll make a donation.
If you would prefer to send a check:
Energy Justice Network
1434 Elbridge St
Philadelphia, PA 19149
Founder & Director
Energy Justice Network
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After bringing together the nation's grassroots "No New Coal Plants" network in 2006, helping stop over 100 coal plant proposals, we've focused back on biomass and trash incinerators, which are far more polluting, expensive and worse for the climate. On climate pollution, here's where they fall: